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Former Gonzaga star Domantas Sabonis says he lacked confidence in his shot in Kings-Warriors playoff series

By Chris Biderman Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Golden State Warriors made it clear what they thought of Sacramento Kings center Domantas Sabonis’ shooting throughout a first-round playoff series that concluded with last Sunday’s Game 7 loss.

The Warriors dared Sabonis to shoot from midrange while their focus shifted to preventing the Kings’ potent 3-point shooters from getting open. Center Kevon Looney would sag deep into the paint, playing passing lanes and preventing cutters from getting to the basket.

It led to the former Gonzaga standout having to settle for jump shots rather than distributing, attacking the lane or posting up, which mostly proved successful for the Warriors. The Kings made just 3 of 22 from 3-point range after halftime while shooting 32.6% from the field overall.

Sabonis in Game 7 made 2 of 6 field-goal attempts outside the restricted area. For the series, Sabonis made just 39% of his shots with defenders 6 or more feet away, including 1 of 5 3-point attempts. In the regular season, he made 46% of his total shots when left free, including 59% on attempts inside the arc. Overall, Sabonis’ shooting was down from 62% in the regular season to 50% against the Warriors.

All of which has given Sabonis a clear area emphasis for the upcoming offseason.

“Obviously, my shooting, (to) have confidence in shooting that shot,” Sabonis said. “If they respected my shot more, we probably would have been going through what we did all season. Instead of the big playing back off me, we’re playing like I was during the regular season, so that would have helped us a lot.”

The Kings’ offense was the most efficient in the NBA heading into the playoffs with a 118.6 net rating. But against the Warriors, it dipped to 109.3, ranking 12th among 16 playoffs teams in the first round.

Sabonis’ work as the hub for dribble handoffs to 3-point shooters and passing to cutters going back door worked far more effectively before the playoffs began. The Warriors taking that away forced Sabonis to shoot more.

“That’s what the playoffs do. People are going to try to figure out where they think your weaknesses are,” Kings coach Mike Brown said Tuesday. “I think Domas is a great shooter. I’ve always told him, if you’re open, let it fly. Just like everybody else, he probably needed to go through a series like that to really step back and say, ‘Man, I wish I let it fly more than I did or I wish I would have tried to have a different approach when it came to shooting an open shot.’

“It’s great that he wants to continue to work on it and it’s great that he’s critiquing himself, because we all have to in order to be able to come back better than we were this year next year.”

Sabonis, of course, had an eventful series outside of X’s and O’s. We was stomped on by Draymond Green in Game 2, leading to Green’s suspension, and became the target of hearty boos from Warriors fans during games in San Francisco. He was also inadvertently elbowed by Looney during a Game 6 jump ball, resulting in a bruised and swollen left eye for Game 7.

Sabonis was the target of criticism from Green after the series ended. Green on his podcast said he “lost a lot of respect” for Sabonis after he decided against shaking hands with Golden State after Game 7.

Sabonis was asked about that on Monday.

“I don’t know,” Sabonis said. “After the game – I don’t even know how to respond.”

Sabonis indicated there’s a chance the avulsion fracture he suffered in late December in his right thumb, on his non-shooting hand, could require surgery to fix this offseason, leaving his immediate offseason plans uncertain. The only thing Sabonis is sure of is he’ll be working on his craft and emphasizing his shooting. He had a meeting with doctors after his press conference Monday.

“It’s never a relaxing summer,” Sabonis said. “I always can’t wait to get back in the gym and start working and preparing. It all depends on how this meeting’s going to go with my hand … and then after that, I can make my plans … so I’ll know in a couple of weeks.”